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Start Your Own Vending Business: Your Step-By-Step Guide to Success

Start Your Own Vending Business: Your Step-By-Step Guide to Success

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Start Your Own Vending Business: Your Step-By-Step Guide to Success

582 pagine
6 ore
May 1, 2012


Turn Small Change Into Big Profits!

Looking for an opportunity to make big profits while setting your own schedule? A vending business could be your ticket to the top. Americans feed vending machines more than $46 billion a year for sodas, candy, coffee and other snacks. That’s a nice chunk of change you could be pocketing.

Starting is easy. You can begin part time out of your home. As your customer base increases, you can hire extra help, invest in more machines and expand your service area. There’s no limit to how large your business can grow.

Get the inside scoop on how to start up in this lucrative, flexible business. Expert advice covers:
How to select the hottest new products for vending machines
The best ways to finance your new business
The secrets to scouting out territories and establishing routes
Where to find supplies at a discount
The latest statistics, trends and forecasts from industry experts
Critical tips to avoid getting scammed
New technology and the use of social media

Checklists, work sheets and expert tips guide you through every phase of the startup process. With low startup costs and no experience required, a vending business is a perfect choice for your new venture.
May 1, 2012

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Start Your Own Vending Business - Entrepreneur Press



If you’re reading this, you’re most likely interested in starting a vending business or at least finding out more about what owning one would be like. Either way, we know from experience just what you need.

You need information, but not written in a manner that causes you to nod off. You need facts, the ones that’ll get you up and running. You need advice, but only the best and most relevant. And you need reassurance that the leap you’re about to take is more than just one of faith.

So let’s start with that last bit first. Indeed, you’re repeatedly going to hear how much work owning a business is and how difficult it is to be successful. However, this country was founded on the principle of controlling one’s own destiny and being one’s own boss. While some folks focus on the negative, we’d like to stress the positive: Owning a business is a tradition in this country, and you can be proud to be a part of it.

As for the rest of what you need, we’ve sifted through literally piles of information and spent hours talking to successful entrepreneurs and industry experts. Many of the messages we heard were repeated over and over by people who don’t even know each other. We’ve taken all that data and distilled it into a solid source of information for you.

In addition, you’ll find in the Glossary all the lingo you’ll need to speak like a pro as well as contact information in the Appendix for everyone we spoke to. If there’s one common theme we heard again and again, it’s to call on those with experience—they’ll be happy to help answer your questions and give you additional advice.

One problem with this book is that it suffers the limitation of any two-dimensional resource. The written word requires taking a very nonlinear world and putting it into a linear format. While we’ve put lots of thought into organizing the flow of topics in a logical fashion, reading each page in sequence may not work for you.

Instead, we encourage you to jump around as much as you like, seeking out related information when you’re ready to learn it. We’d even encourage you to flip first to Chapter 17 for some of the most valuable advice you’ll find between these covers.

After you’re finished with the last chapter, consider skipping next to Chapter 2, where you’ll learn whether vending is the glamorous affair you’ve always imagined or perhaps not quite for you. Then, if you’re still with us, start in again from the beginning and work your way through.

No matter how you use this book—whether you read it cover to cover or simply refer to it as questions arise—we know it’ll serve you well as you embark on what’s sure to be one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life: being your own boss.

Finally, we’d like to tell you upfront that the business owners and experts we interviewed gave most generously of time, energy, and resources. They also provided this book’s sample forms, documents, worksheets, etc., which you’re sure to find invaluable for adapting to your own business needs. It’s to them that we owe our most sincere gratitude for making this guide possible.

So sit back, get comfortable, and let your journey begin.


Introduction to Vending

Before investing time, energy, money, and, most important, yourself in any business, it’s just plain good sense to know something about what you’re getting into. History, current issues, and future trends all impact the steps you take toward becoming a successful entrepreneur.

In the case of this book, it’s also important to know who’s giving you the advice. How and why did they or did they not succeed in certain areas of the vending industry? Does the geographic area where they live demand the same products as yours? How do their businesses compare to the one you’re planning to start?

The more you know, the more likely you are to prosper. So without further ado, let’s answer the questions we’ve already asked as well as a few more.

What Are We Talking About?

Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company Pie and Candy Vendor

If you visit your dictionary (we used American Heritage), you’ll likely discover the definition of vending machine is A coin-operated machine that dispenses merchandise. Of course, if you’ve purchased food, beverages, or sundries from a vending machine lately, you know that paper money and even plastic are used for purchases.

Perhaps a more thorough description of vending is the one suggested by the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) in its booklet Vending 101: The business of buying, placing on location, filling with product, removing cash, and maintaining vending equipment.

Just like boiling down the theory of gravity to What goes up must come down, the day-to-day realities of a successful vending operation are also a bit more complicated. But NAMA’s definition is an excellent place to start.

Health Is On Our Minds

The International Food Information Council Foundation 2010 Food and Health Survey uncovers some hints about the U.S. population’s food choice motivators. For those of you vending edible products, consider these facts when deciding what products will appeal to your audience.

What kind of eaters are we this year?

70 percent of Americans say they are concerned about their weight status.

77 percent are trying to lose or maintain their weight.

To lose weight, 69 percent are changing the amount of food they eat, 63 percent are changing the types of foods they eat, and 60 percent are engaging in physical activity.

Weight loss is the biggest motivator for 65 percent of Americans improving the healthfulness of their diet.

72 percent of those Americans embracing dietary recommendations are trying to consume more fiber and 73 percent want to eat more whole grains.

What are the biggest influences on our purchasing decisions?

86 percent of Americans say taste.

73 percent say price.

58 percent say healthfulness.

55 percent say convenience.

If you are able to carry products that satisfy a lot of these preferences, chances are you’ll be received well by 77 percent of the population.

Where It All Began

According to A Concise History of Vending, written by respected professor, prolific author, and NAMA president emeritus G. Richard Schreiber, the earliest known vending machine was an Egyptian liquid-distribution device dating from 215 B.C. Not surprisingly, the device dispensed holy water at places of worship when a coin was deposited.

In the United States, it is generally accepted that vending began in 1888, when the Adams Gum company introduced its penny machines. From this humble beginning, vending has grown to approximately a $42.9 billion food service industry with most vending machines making thousands of transactions each year.

Current State of Affairs

For years and years, food-related vending enjoyed unbridled growth as factories and offices sprang up across North America. Even today, food remains the largest vending segment at about 93 percent of the industry, according to the trade news journal Vending Times.

Vending Times editor-in-chief Tim Sanford elaborates: "This is true if you define food very broadly as anything people metabolize, such as beverages, candy and snacks, ice cream, hot and cold sandwiches, platters, and so forth. In terms of dollars, the packaged cold drink category is the largest by far, because the major soft drink companies have large bottling organizations that place their own vending machines, often in locations that would not be profitable for a vending company (a ‘third-party operator’ in bottler terminology). Bottlers also lease equipment to those vending companies, and the vending companies often buy their own equipment, so they can stock the machines with beverages from a variety of suppliers.

In 2009, the last complete year for which we have totals, more than 3 million machines had combined dollar sales of $23.3 billion, Sanford says. "Confections and snacks represented the second-largest category, with 1,240,000 machines enjoying dollar sales of $9.7 billion. The disparity in unit sales is not as great; candy and snack items usually sell for less than packaged cold drinks do. It certainly is true that vending in the United States primarily is a food-and-refreshments business, although limited deployments of machines selling things like iPods always get a lot of publicity.

At the moment, vending is in somewhat of a decline and yet the demand for vending has never been greater. It’s not that vending is selling less products, it’s that the big accounts are harder to find, explains Sanford, who believes that you can still do very well in the business, but that you need to understand the business thoroughly before jumping in.

Sanford also believes the vending industry today confronts a challenge: the demand for vending services never has been greater, as companies downsize and move away from providing manual foodservice for their employees. However, there are fewer accounts large enough to justify the operating costs of providing full-line vending service. The modern vending business took shape between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s because it could satisfy the demand by large enterprises (primarily factories) for food and beverage service that could be accessed quickly by large numbers of workers, and would be available to people working second and third shifts, and weekends if necessary. The need for 24/7 service still exists, often in acute form, but it is much more difficult to meet it with traditional vending service when there are 40 people in the location rather than 1,500.

The problem is that the demand is exercised by smaller businesses because the old 1,500-man factories are fewer and fewer, says Sanford. "Many companies have downsized, so we don’t have 120 employees at one office anymore. Instead you have maybe 60 people. They still want vending machines, but the location is not as attractive as it once was.

The classical solution to this problem, which remains effective today, is the small vending operation, Sanford ponders. An independent business in which the owners install, fill, collect, and service all the equipment does not have the overhead costs associated with buying several trucks, hiring drivers for them, and leasing or buying warehouse space. Many small operators do not wish to become larger, for that reason alone. Others start small in the expectation of growing over time.

The result, because of a combination of downsizing, telecommuting, and increasing satellite offices, is that the vending operator needs to place more machines in various locations to compensate for the smaller number of employees in one location. The demand is still there; it’s simply more fragmented. The problem for the vending operator is that more machines and a larger route mean more time and money expended to make the same money that the old-time operators could make from a handful of very large locations.

Some of this problem, however, can be alleviated by planning differently from how the old-time operators worked. For some this may mean more smaller-sized machines and the use of software technology to allow the machine itself to communicate when it is running low on product. According to Sanford there are very experienced people in the industry from whom newcomers can (and should) learn a lot before starting out. However, there is nobody who can provide a foolproof method. You will need to create your own system and establish your own routes.

Attaching additional services onto your vending business will get you through lulls in sales. Have you been in the business for a while? Could you save new operators some heartache with your knowledge? Consider being a vending mentor or consultant and charging a flat fee to go over business plans with newbies. It’s also a great way to continue making money after you retire.

One of the keys to building any type of business today is understanding the wide diversity of tastes and product possibilities that the consumer has come to expect. There currently are 44 different types of soda under the Coca-Cola brand on the market today in the United States, not to mention new types of drinks being created daily by various manufacturers, including herbal teas, sweet teas, energy drinks with algae, and even clear sweet liquids with colored, gelatin balls afloat (Orbitz). Instead of simply buying orange juice, you’ll find frozen, small containers, quarts, bottles, pulp, no pulp, and various combinations of orange and another juice. The point is that consumers, faced with such a range of products, have become particular in their selections. Therefore, you will need to embrace the various possibilities and determine what will work best in your demographic market and where you can sell specific products. Not unlike a detective solving a crime, the successful vending operator today is skillful at putting all of the components together to answer the questions:

1.What do I sell?

2.Who wants what I’ll sell?

3.Where is my unfulfilled market?

4.How will I reach that market?

5.How will I keep customers’ attention?

To make things more interesting, and provide the vending operator with more options to fit these smaller but still vending-conscious businesses, a variety of different-sized machines have appeared in recent years along with new products suited for vending machines, ranging from hair flattening irons and bicycle parts to frozen pizzas and digital cameras.

Although consumers in countries like Japan buy an ever-expanding array of vended products, vending is generally considered to be a mature industry in the United States. Unlike the youthful technology industry, where innovation makes millionaires overnight, today’s keys to vending success are controlling costs, strategizing, aggressive marketing, exceptional management, and a lot of plain hard work. According to Elliot Maras, editor of Automatic Merchandiser magazine (, "Vending is not a simple or easy business.

The 2010 State of the Vending Industry Report reveals that the most notable change in the industry is the increase in nutritional snacks, which include breakfast bars, cereal, fruit snacks, functional bars, nutritional pretzels, granola bars, rice cakes, and trail mix. This continued a trend from 2009, but in 2010 the gain was much larger (7.7 points in revenue sales and 4.4 points in unit sales).

Anyone who says so is a fantastic liar. If you are going to get into this business, commit yourself to a lot of studying and hard work. Shortcuts don’t exist."

A Fresh, New Outlook

In addition to hurdles posed by tangible economic forces, in the past vending also had to combat negative perceptions. Alas, despite the blatant need for more attention to customer preferences, there are still some vending operators who do things as they have been doing them for years. When it comes to changing with the times and perhaps exploring new innovations, Tim Sanford sums it up well: You’ll hear the phrase ‘that’s not the business we’re in’ by some of the veterans. Vending operators in general—like many other small-business owners—are mindful of Bert Lance’s famous advice: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The trick is to recognize when something is broken, and to know what tools are available for correcting the problem.

Today, evidence suggests a whole new game for those ready to market to a specific group—Gen Y. As reported in a recent Vending Times article, the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s executive vice president and chief operating officer Dan Mathews presented multiple points at the 2011 OneShow supporting why Gen Y is the new golden opportunity market for vendors. A NAMA commissioned study with indepth interviews with operators and consumers accumulated findings that are causing the vending association to embark on a groundbreaking image-building campaign primarily targeted at Generation Y.

Old opinions about consumer attitudes regarding vending as a last resort were strongly contradicted, with 80 percent of them now rating it positively or very positively. Additionally, those ages 18 to 27 (Gen Y) held the highest regard for vending. Because Gen Y is the trendsetter for Gen X and the baby boomers, appealing to them will eventually gain ground with the other groups.

New technology is addressing negative interactions with the introduction of cashless payment and troubleshooting alert systems that operators add to their repertoires to combat the common complaints of lost money and products not dropping down into the grab area.

Here are just a few of many reasons, revealed from the study, to market to Gen Y:

•They really like vending, and in fact choose it predominantly over shopping at convenience, grocery, and drugstores.

•They consume lots of snacks and drinks.

•They prefer the cashless payment, which can lead to spending more money per transaction.

•They like interacting with machines and are not intimidated by the idea that the machines may malfunction.

They set the trends that older groups follow.

During vending’s heyday of growth and prosperity, attending to customer satisfaction was irrelevant to making a profit. Today, consumers are in the position to demand top-notch customer service, especially after the recent struggles of the challenged economy. Though the economy is softening, it’s clear that the emphasis on old-fashioned attention to customer needs has allowed certain businesses to withstand and even rise above the storm. This is apparent to the extent that many books on the new model of old-fashioned customer service hold top rank on the bestseller list, promoting not only top-notch products and services, but also a lasting social engagement. You’ll read more about this in Chapter 14.

Another factor contributing to a negative perception of vending will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 3. To summarize briefly, scams in vending are so prevalent that hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent individuals are sold vending machines every year under false but convincing pretenses. Often, the victims of such schemes, called Blue Sky schemes, place machines at various locations, slowly go bankrupt, and then simply abandon the equipment, leaving consumers frustrated and without recourse. A few of our operators started off behind that eight ball and learned its painful lesson. Their advice can help you make better decisions.

Back to the Future

Before you close this book and give up your dream in despair, we want you to know the picture isn’t entirely black. The Hudson Report shows that various technological, economic, demographic, and other forces are opening doors to new ways of doing business and new markets to explore. For example, cell phones and pagers reduce vending businesses’ overhead by decreasing the need for secretarial support. Laptops, notebooks, and wireless handheld devices like a BlackBerry phone allow for inputting information directly at the site with the latest in software, rather than scribbling down machine data and crunching numbers later by hand. Cashless vending systems allow detailed monitoring of sales and encourage people to spend more per transaction. Cash recycling enables customers to make more purchases without needing change. Apps help identify where people are and what they want.

Generations X and Y have been profoundly affected by technology and the increasingly fast pace of the world around them. They are becoming more self-reliant at a younger age than their parents, and often start making their own purchasing decisions early in life. Students are juggling classes, workloads, and extracurricular activities. The idea of buying an item without waiting in line is more and more appealing. In business and industries, many companies have gone from 35 to 40 hours up to 45 to 55 hours, creating the need for quick, easily accessible food. In most businesses today, time is of the essence, so vending machines are welcomed for that quick snack or cup of coffee.

As the world gets faster and more technologically oriented, the need for vending machines increases. To get a picture of where vending fits in the overall market, see the Market Share of Vended Products chart below.

Market Share of Vended Products

¹ Includes nonperishable cold beverages (such as soft drinks, juice, water, tea, and isotonic) in cans and bottles.

² Includes shelf-stable packaged, single-serve snack and candy items both wide and narrow and pastry sold through nonrefrigerated vendors.

³ Includes refrigerated, frozen, canned, bowl-pack, and other shelf-stable main meal items.

Source: Vending Times’ 2010 Census of the Industry

What Does It All Mean?

Admittedly, the swiftly changing landscape is making the process of doing business particularly difficult for established vending organizations that are accustomed to doing everything the old way. In addition to the Hudson Report, articles in Automatic Merchandiser, reports in Vending Times, and statements by organizations like NAMA repeatedly admonish vending companies to pay more attention to merchandising, customer service, computerization, and related efficiencies.

In other words, just filling machines, and being on your way, isn’t good enough anymore.

For entrepreneurs like you, the current and future trends of the industry offer as many opportunities as roadblocks. Unfettered by the way we’ve always done it, you can turn the challenges of the rapidly changing marketplace to your advantage faster than can an established organization, where old habits often die hard.

Our Focus

To help you become a successful operator, this book draws on the insights of entrepreneurs who took advantage of opportunities by entering relatively new vending fields or embracing the forces of innovation and change. It also provides insights from those who watched countless wannabes and savvy survivors.

Because consumable products dominate the profit potential in the vending industry and offer you the best opportunities, we’ll focus on this segment. We’ll also introduce you to issues faced by entrepreneurs who identify an unexplored vending market and strike off to conquer the unknown.

Additional Opportunities

What’s not addressed in depth here is amusement vending—arcade games, jukeboxes, etc.—and street vending. Bulk vending—stickers, toys, and gumballs—and office coffee service (OCS) are also underrepresented.

In the case of amusement and street vending, many of the basics of vending consumables apply. Even more information will apply to bulk vending and OCS, but their segments also face issues beyond the scope of this work.

For those interested in those varieties, we recommend using this business guide to acquaint yourself with the fundamentals and as a valuable source for worksheets and checklists. In addition, you will find references to more specific assistance listed in the Appendix.

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

Want to ease into the vending lifestyle? Try tending to a small set of candy and gumball bulk machines before sinking the bigger bucks into larger, electronic machines. Try it as a six-month or year experiment to see if you’re suited for bigger ventures. It can leave you feeling more confident when you do start playing with the big boys, and could pave the way for some easier machine placement; your bulk customers may say yes to an upgrade to electronic machines.

As Antoine Cameron points out in How to Start a Vending Business, Volume 1, smaller, bulk machines are easy to transport in a car or truck, require low maintenance, and are easier to place than larger vendors. While you’ll need to own more machines to make the same money you would from a soda and snack machine, bulk candy machines require less of your time. Used bulk machines can be found on and for just $50 and up. Bring lots of quarters when you check out these pre-owned machines and insist on a run through of loading them with product, inserting change, and dispensing product at least ten times, and then emptying the change with the seller. Get ready to eat a lot of M&M’s.

Meet Our Operators

Vending business owners most often refer to themselves as operators, a term we’ve wholeheartedly adopted. We’ll supply you with all the jargon you’ll need to navigate the industry in the next chapter and in our Glossary, but for now, we’d like to introduce you to the voices you’ll hear throughout this book.

Jennifer Berdoll Wammack grew up working on her parents’ pecan farm, learning the business inside and out, including running the attached retail pie and candy shop that makes use of the fresh harvest and family recipes. Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company began 32 years ago when her family started to grow and harvest pecans on an orchard that is now 15,000 trees strong.

When Jennifer and her husband, Jared, purchased the business from her parents, they had only one problem: keeping the doors to their shop open long enough to satisfy all the people with never-ending appetites who kept pulling up in their cars in the parking lot. This was what inspired Jennifer and Jared’s unique vendor concept.

Jennifer couldn’t stand the fact that even though she worked long hours to satisfy the constant stream of customers, she’d always miss selling to the hungry people pulling up to the store just as she was leaving for the day. She stayed later and later, pushing her limits to capture sales opportunities, until one day she had an idea. What if people could buy Berdoll’s homemade pecan pies and candies from a vending machine that was available all the time? The success of her pie vending machine is famous now, but the road to success was blocked with a few challenges. You’ll soon learn how this niche marketer’s persistence paid off.

According to the United States Department of Labor, most individuals working in the vending business learn their skills on the job. New workers are trained informally on the job to fill and fix machines by observing, working with, and receiving instruction from those with experience.

Wayne D. of Burnsville, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, is our most veteran entrepreneur. He started his business part time in 1978 while still working as a fulltime cigarette vending sales representative for the tobacco company R.J. Reynolds. I was nearing 40 and knew I wasn’t going to be retiring with Reynolds, says Wayne.

Wayne chose vending because his Reynolds job gave him a bird’s-eye view of what worked and what didn’t. I had a distinct advantage because I saw how two or three hundred companies operated, he explains. So my wife and I started our company with 14 candy, snack, and cigarette machines in five different locations. Five years and a number of smaller acquisitions later, Wayne purchased a larger operation and traded his Reynolds position for working in vending full time.

Erik A. Borger started Kansas City’s Originally Organic Vending as a response to his childhood and young adult battle with a love of eating and his frustration with the lack of available healthy, delicious choices. The idea for his company germinated when he was in high school, years before he ever knew a thing about health or nutrition. Erik reflects, I was overweight as far back as I can remember, but my school’s vending machines were essential in my eyes. By the time I hit 20 I was a heavy smoker and drinker, tipping the scales at almost 300 pounds. At one point I finally saw the light and a major life’s change occurred.

From the young age of 14 Borger worked as a chef, and as the years went by, he also held positions in sales, delivery, and retail management, and even rode on the side of a garbage truck for a winter. Through it all, his annoyance with the unhealthy food offered in vending machines persisted. No matter if I was in school, at the gym, or a local art gallery, my vending choices were always the same, he says. There was never anything I could purchase that did not make me feel guilty, sick, or both.

His passion for health and nutrition finally led him

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